Marshall notebook: Was running game that bad?
HUNTINGTON - Most observers would agree: Marshall's running game didn't fare well last weekend in the loss to Ohio.
By the numbers, the Herd rushed for 59 yards on 22 attempts. Remove the two sacks of Rakeem Cato and there were 20 rushes for 71 yards. More telling, damning even, three tailbacks combined to gain just 27 yards on 16 carries.
But is this really a problem, an anomaly or just how the game played out? And has the Thundering Herd leaned too heavily on Cato and the passing game?
One myth to be busted: Marshall called a limited number of runs. As offensive coordinator Bill Legg pointed out, that was simply not the case.
"I called a bunch of runs last week," Legg said. "We still are running read-option; we're just doing it a little bit differently. Cato keeping the ball is the third option now, not the second option. So it's hand it off, throw [for a] quick gain, or keep it if everything's covered.
"What happened last week is, however many times I called it - it was, like, 30 times that I called it - we only handed it off nine. The other 21 times, he pulled the ball and he threw it. The touchdown to [Aaron Dobson], it was a run-pass option. The touchdown to Jazz [King], it was a run-pass option. We're run-blocking and run-blocking and run-blocking."
Isn't run-blocking going to get you penalized for having ineligible men downfield? Not on the quicker throws, it won't. Or on throws behind the line of scrimmage, where linemen can downfield at will.
"Every one of those bubble screens and every one of those quick screens, about 75 percent of those slants that have been thrown this year, we're blocking run up front. The offensive line has no clue the ball's being pulled and thrown," Legg said.
Nonetheless, there is much work to be done in the running game as Marshall prepares to take on Rice at 3:30 p.m. EDT. The game airs on WCHS, Channel 8 in Charleston-Huntington.
"Now, what I told the kids is when we hand it off, we've got to do a better job," Legg said. "When they're covering the slot receiver and taking the bubble screen or the smoke screen or the slant or whatever, away, we've got to be more efficient when we're handing the ball off. There's no question about that."
With two players returning from injuries, Marshall is closer to establishing its optimum rotation on the offensive line.
If the Herd can have eight solid players at its disposal - three tackles, three guards and two centers - coaches will take it. It surely beats having essentially five, as the Herd had last weekend against Ohio.
The nicked-up John Bruhin came in at his right guard spot in the fourth quarter, but that was the only substitution on the unit. He should be back at 100 percent this weekend and right tackle Garrett Scott is expected to return from missing the last two games, so the Herd is almost at full strength.
The matter to address this week: the ability to give center Chris Jasperse some snaps off.
The tackle rotation is Jordan Jeffries, Scott and Gage Neimeyer. The guards are Josh Lovell, Bruhin and Alex Schooler. True freshman Cam Dees made his college debut against Western Carolina as a guard.
But Dees is a center by trade, and will be ultimately called on to back up Jasperse. Herd coaches brought Dees back to center this week to get him ready to go.
"He's going to get a lot of work this week at center," said Herd coach Doc Holliday. "The week before we didn't get him any work at center, because we had to play him at guard because we lost Lovell and Bruhin. [Dees] is a young guy, so unless he can practice you get a little nervous about putting him in the game [at center]. So he was not the backup center last week; it was [James] Allen, who worked there all week."
If all goes well, Marshall fans will look back at Cato's late-game interception against Ohio with a shrug, knowing it was a hard lesson in his development. As anybody connected with the team will point out, that pass was inches from getting above Ohio's Jelani Moseley and reaching its intended receiver, C.J. Crawford, possibly for a touchdown.
"From everything I've read and heard from people, he handled himself very well after the loss and in the interviews," Holliday said. "Unfortunately, that is part of the maturing process. It probably happened to Byron [Leftwich] and probably to Chad [Pennington]. Hopefully it won't happen to Cato anymore. It's part of it and I feel he handled himself very well."
Yes, it happened to Marshall's two biggest-name QBs. Pennington suffered that safety for intentional grounding against Montana in 1995; Leftwich couldn't complete that end-zone shot in the 2001 Mid-American Conference championship game.
And finally, a word about the Herd's eight-game hex deep in the heart of Texas. Holliday seems to have rid his memory of one of those losses - not that it's a bad thing.
"I've been to Texas once and got beat by a pretty daggone good Houston team," he said. "They won 12 games last year and beat Penn State in a bowl game."
Uh, oh. He forgot about the Herd's seventh loss of the 2010 season, a 31-17 setback at Southern Methodist, in Dallas. The Herd was held to 50 rushing yards, gave up 202 yards to SMU runner Zach Line and fell behind 24-0 at halftime.
Afterward, Holliday lit his team up as he probably has not done before or since. Perhaps his tirade was so intense it clouded his memory
Which, again, is not a bad thing.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.